quillette | The link between sex and dominance has a deep evolutionary history. The perennial battles between males over reproductive access to females fill the annals of natural history, and are explained by evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers’ concept of parental investment.4 According to this concept, the sex that invests most in reproduction (usually females) is more vigorously pursued by the sex that invests least (usually males), leading to more frequent dominance contests among the least investing sex.
Females exhibit a preference for dominant males who can bequeath impeccable genetic pedigrees and material resources to future offspring. As such, we should expect males to increase their sexual response following a victory over a rival in anticipation of increased sexual opportunities. Indeed, as suggested by my graduate research with David Bjorklund, men who are single (and, hence, men for whom the stakes of competition over women are highest) exhibit more sexual interest in women following a victory than a defeat.5 Physiologically, dominance and sex are linked by the male hormone testosterone, as suggested by studies showing higher testosterone levels in men who win than in men who lose, whether in sports6 or politics.7 This function of testosterone is supported by research showing that presidential and congressional elections in the US were followed by increases in pornography consumption in states whose citizens overwhelmingly voted for winning candidates.8 9All of this suggests that social dominance is a common antecedent to sexual behavior. But the influence also goes in the other direction, as is indicated by Imhoff and colleagues’ finding that exposure to sexual material leads to an increase in aggression among sexually narcissistic men.10